CHAPTER 31

 

"A Jedi?" puzzled the Housekeeper as she sipped lílahsh in Japhta Fettís private office. Japhta had been discussing the events of the last few days with her most trusted servant, a woman, who, despite her severity, had become almost a mother figure.

Japhta reached over to a thin, gold box on the desk and opened it to reveal a neat line of cigarettes. She selected one and pushed it into a long holder before sweeping the completed assembly to her heavily lipsticked mouth. Japhta offered a cigarette to the Housekeeper, who accepted the gift with gratitude.

The Housekeeper lit her and her Mistressís cigarettes, and the office filled with smoke as the two women exhaled.

"His Lordship doesnít think itís ladylike to smoke," said Japhta with a guilty smile.

"I donít believe it," said the Housekeeper as she flicked ash into the priceless, silver Xim ashtray on the desk. "How did I manage to let a Jedi sneak in?"

"Itís not your fault," said Japhta, reassuring her servant. "The Jedi are cunning and devious, but doomed."

"Who is it?" asked the Housekeeper, eager to identify this suspected Jedi Knight in their midst.

"When we did the inspection this morning," said Japhta, flicking her ash, "I thought that one of the new maids looked familiar. Remember, I grew up in the Jedi Temple."

"Which one?"

"Sara Antilles, in the kitchens."

The Housekeeper pictured this new who had started work only yesterday: a tall, pale girl with dark hair and big, doe eyes. "Yes," she answered. "Miss Antilles appeared to have some kind of...attitude...during her interview."

"I think weíve scored here," laughed Japhta. ĎNot only do we have a Jedi in the Mansion, but Iím certain that this particular piece of scum is none other than Lanky Lordan!" Japhta clapped her hands with glee and giggled as the Housekeeper sipped her drink.

"Whoís Lanky Lordan?"

"When I was a young girl, training in the Bear Clan, there was this other Jedi youngling: a tall, pale, skinny girl with dark hair and soppy eyes. Her name was Sarolyn Lordan and she made my life hell. She had a bad attitude. She thought she was better than the rest of us and she made sure that all of the Masters, including Big Ears, believed it. Sarolyn was nothing but a stuck-up, precocious little brat who used to cheat in the exercises and then sneer down her nose at me when she won." Japhta narrowed her eyes.

"Iíve been waiting a long time to deal with Sarolyn Lordan."

"Does she know sheís been spotted?"

"No," said Japhta, who could barely contain her excitement over the showdown in store for them; the culmination of a feud that had lasted for twenty years; a feud that had left Japhta twisted and bitter from her own shortcomings.

"She doesnít have a clue," said Japhta. "Iíve set a trap for her, and we can guarantee that sheíll walk straight into it."

The two women settled back into their seats and sipped their drinks. Japhta smiled to herself as she lit another cigarette. She considered Sarolyn; the rogue Jedi whom she was convinced had been on Sorensia with the late Bil-Kit Jinn, the rogue Jedi over whom Lord Rakshas had no control.

Lord Rakshas will be pleased, thought Japhta, when he finds out that I have cleared the way for his conquest.

Japhta exhaled, releasing a cloud of smoke. Soon, she would be granted full Sith apprenticeship and rule alongside her lover.

There was a knock on the door.

"Come in," said Japhta. The door slid open to reveal the Butler standing outside. He strode in and bowed.

"Iím sorry to disturb you, My Lady, but I bring a message from the medical research institute on Despayre."

"Well?" demanded Japhta, eager to know the latest developments concerning the Black Rot.

"The Director's pleased to announced that the Black Rot is ready."

Japhta could barely contain her excitement. First, she had trapped Sarolyn Lordan, and now the Sith were within a stoneís throw of conquest.

"Tell the Director to start loading the spores into the warheads. We may have to start using it very soon."

The Butler coughed politely. "I beg your pardon, My Lady, but His Lordship would like you to personally oversee its deployment once you have, er, disposed of this intruder within our organisation."

"Yes, thankyou, Goldby," said Japhta, dismissing the Butler, who slunk away. She was enjoying a woman-to-woman chat with her Housekeeper, and did not care for it being interrupted by silly little men.

The Housekeeper puffed on her cigarette and smiled primly as Japhta finished her liqueur.

"This night will go down in history," said Japhta with pride. "We will see the end of Sarolyn Lordan and the beginning of the New Empire. Even the Hutts will bow down in submission when they see the glory of Koraetor Mandalore."

 

* * *

 

It had been another day of hard toil in the kitchens. Sarolyn, Neema and Jen had spent virtually the entire day, bar the spot inspection from Fett, scrubbing clean the courtyard. Now they sat, tired and aching, in the Servantsí Hall, winding down after the dayís grind. Li was pleased with their work. The courtyard gleamed, and he had expressed his gratitude by presenting them with a large bottle of locally produced wine.

The wine was very strong, and Neema and Jen knocked back their drinks with little concern, becoming louder and more raucous with each moment. Smoke rose from their cigarettes.

Sarolyn looked at Neema and frowned. The dainty, mousey-haired girl was supposed to be training as a Jedi, albeit secretly, and she should surely know that too much alcohol had an adverse effect on oneís Force powers. She thought that Neema was behaving very carelessly.

Sarolyn carefully sipped her wine. She could sense that something was going to happen tonight, and that everything here was about to come to a head. She closed her eyes, for the smoke from her friendsí cigarettes was making them sting. Sarolyn could sense an approaching army, far out in the hills, hidden in the darkness. It would soon attack the palace.

Sarolyn focused her mind beyond the confines of Fort Myreion: out into the night. She saw three figures picking their way along a narrow, dirt track towards a remote farmhouse. Their future was clouded.

"Whatís up, Saz?" slurred Neema through a cloud of smoke. "Youíve been in a mood all day. Chill out and have a laugh."

"Iím too tired," said Sarolyn, waving away the smoke that had drifted into her face.

Jen drained her glass and stubbed out her cigarette. "Iím gonna hit the sack," she said as she rose from the table. "íNother early start tomorrow."

"Goodnight, Jen," said Sarolyn quietly.

"Night!" yelled Neema, waving after her.

Neema turned on Sarolyn once Jen had left the room. ĎWhatís the matter with you, Saz?" she asked, annoyed that the young Jedi had put a damper on the evening. "Youíre being a right grouch. Just relax and stop being so uptight all the time!" Neema refilled her glass and flicked cigarette ash onto the parquet floor.

"Look, Neema," said Sarolyn in an angry whisper. "The Council sent me on a mission to find out exactly what Mandaloreís up to, and I donít like the sound of it. Somethingís going to happen tonight, Neema, something big, and Iím going to need your help." Sarolyn sighed as Neema puffed on her cigarette. "Youíre supposed to be training to be a Jedi, and that habit wonít do you any good. Your mother sent you here to watch over me, not to drink yourself into oblivion!"

"Oh, for heavenís sake!" protested Neema. "Youíre sounding just like Mum! So what if I like a drink and a fag? Itís no big deal. Itís my body and if I want to smoke, I will."

"Yes, but itís not your body, Neema," said Sarolyn. "Weíre all part of the Living Force, all working together for the good of the Republic. You canít feel the Force if youíre full of booze." Sarolyn was desperately trying to make her friend see sense. There was much anger and impatience in Neema; besides, she was twenty-eight years old and still a Padawan. Vima was wise to take her daughterís training slowly.

"I can control it, Saz," argued Neema. "Iím ready for anything."

Sarolyn sighed again, and stared into Neemaís intense, grey eyes.

"How do you know youíre ready, Neema? You are not ready; I can sense it. You must be patient." Sarolyn smiled gently at her friend. "Please be mindful of your feelings. Vimaís putting her career on the line in training you. She proud of you and she wants you to succeed. Vimaís right in taking things slowly, for she knows that you must unlearn everything youíve been taught in your childhood."

Sarolyn looked reassuringly at Neema. "You will be a Jedi, just like the Sunriders before you. I promise you."

Neema extinguished her cigarette and smiled. It was obvious that Sarolyn cared deeply for her. The two of them were undercover here in Fort Myreion, and they must work as a team.

"Iím sorry, Saz," conceded Neema, "I suppose youíre right." Neema glanced at the clock on the wall. "Itís getting late," she added with a sigh, "Weíd better go up."

The two girls cleared the clutter from the table and placed the empty bottles in the bin before leaving the Servantsí Hall in silent darkness. As Sarolyn ascended the creaky staircase that led to their attic dormitory, she considered the three rebels who were on their way and the implications for them should they get caught. Sarolyn could foresee that she and Neema would become involved in their exploits and that they must be prepared. The Republic depended on them.

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